Performing in damp old basements, Detroit dive bars and music festivals, The Vonneguts have established a name in the city’s independent music landscape in the past few years. With a unique and timeless rock n’ roll sound, it’s easy to see how they’ve quickly gained a cult following. I recently sat down with the garage-rockers to talk about their new album “Urban Paradise” and to see where it all began.
“I’d say we all started in high school, basically me and Phil are in the same grade, Joe’s a year younger and Mike’s two years younger,” Hubbell remarked.
The Vonneguts are four students from University of Detroit high school: crooner/guitarist Miles Hubbell; axe-man Phill Dage; bass-thumper Mike O’Brien (or as they like to say “ole’ Bry-Bry); and percussion aficionado Joe Myers. Together they’re a songwriting quartet.
“Basically, in high school we were all required to read Slaughterhouse Five, so it’s kind of like a little bit from where that came from,” said Hubbell. “I think we touch on some topics of his (Kurt Vonnegut), like the power of mass media, time and space and how they vary. Storytelling,” Hubbell stated.
The main songwriters are “all four of us. I’d say everyone. It’s equally distributed,” Dage explained.
“I think we all write songs differently. Phill will come up with the guitar progression and bar chords first. My method is more like, if there’s a certain melody in my head then I’ll find the melody and find the chords around it and then do vocals. Better to do vocals first then form the music around it,” Hubbell added.
Their influences range from The Beatles, Crosby Still Nash, Santana, Led Zeppelin, Dr. Dog to Otis Redding and Mozart. Hubbell remarked that: “We are going for the timeless sound. The sound that you couldn’t necessarily place a year around.”
In their most recent album, they do just that. From the heavy-hitting surf-punk tune “Live Ammunition” to the acoustically finger-picked harmonies of “Eden,” they successfully show off the deep range of their sound on “Urban Paradise.”
They’ve also done a decent amount of traveling to promote their music considering they have no booking agent. For the new years they decided to travel “down to the bayou!” As Myers delicately put it.
“Basically we were there for a week out on Bourbon Street and like we played outside the Sugar Bowl. All beats, drums. Bucket drumming,” Hubbell explained. For now they seem happy contributing to the music scene around Detroit.
“There’s a lot of really good artists, in general, in Detroit. I think that’s partially because of geography. And, in the winter-time, everyone gets locked up and you got to do something. It’s great, a lot of really good bands and artists across a lot of different genres in Detroit. That’s one of the strong points, there’s little positive parts about each genre. There’s a really great rap scene, great rock n’roll scene, even jazz scene. There’s a huge jazz thing going on in Detroit. It’s great. And, you know, because it’s so small, people like to support each other,” Myers said.
Although they’ve been playing together for awhile, they admit they’re “formulating our voice, I’d say, or the sound we’re going for. Which is why, if you listen to the album the whole way through, it jumps around in terms of genre. Right now we’re still testing the waters to see where we’re going to end up,” Hubbell said.
“I think we all are pretty genuine in our efforts. All of us are very different people, as you may or may not be able to tell. I think that’s what makes it fun for me is that we all have something different to say. And we all have something different to contribute and that’s the true meaning of a band, it’s working together to make something awesome,” Myers remarked.
They may be in the early stages of establishing themselves but with with the excitement they generate from their live shows and the creative individuality they’ve shown from their songwriting, they’ve solidified an intriguing fan base. Check out their bandcamp to listen to their recordings and to see where they’re playing next.
Eric Kiska graduated from Northern Michigan with a BS in English and writing and minor in art and design. He’s also a former video editor at Detroit Public TV.